Warner Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Warner Surname Meaning

The surname Warner derived from the German personal name Warnier, comprised of the elements warin, meaning “guard,” and hari, meaning “soldier” or “army.” The main surname to emerge was Werner.

Meanwhile the Warnier name was brought to England by the Normans after the Conquest. A Robert Warnier was recorded in the Dorset pipe rolls of 1196. In time Warnier became Warner.

Warner in England has another origin, from the French warriner, a keeper of hares, rabbits, partridges, pheasants and the like. The word warriner in fact stayed in English use up to the 17th century, as in one of Cobbe’s prophecies of 1614: “The warriner knows there are rabbits in breeding!”

The surname Warner here would designate someone who lived near a game park or was employed in one.

Warner Surname Resources on The Internet

Warner Surname Ancestry

  • from England (East Anglia), Holland, South Germany, and from Jewish emigrants
  • to Ireland, America, Caribs (Leeward Is. and Trinidad) and Australia

The Werner surname first surfaced in lower Saxony in SE Germany and was also to be found in Baden in SW Germany. They came to America as Werners or Verners, Warners or even Wanners.

England. Early English sightings of the Warner surname were in East Anglia in the 14th century.

East Anglia.  A Warner family held Warner Hall in Great Waltham, Essex at that time. The Warner name continued to be found there. One line of these Warners, who prospered as merchants in London, moved north to a country estate at Parham in Suffolk.

Other Warners were traced from Besthorp, near Shropham in Norfolk.  John Warner of this family, dying without heirs in 1374, left his possessions to a Cheshire knight under the condition that he assume the Warner name.

This he did and the line, based in Mildenhall in Suffolk, continued to Sir Edward Warner, the Lieutenant of the Tower of London during turbulent Tudor times. Then Warners of this line, such as the gambler Edward Warner, frittered the family position away.

Later distribution of the Warner name showed it spreading south to London and the southeast and west into the Midlands.

London. Harmon Warner was a London merchant tailor in Elizabethan times.  His son, a royalist, was Bishop of Rochester.  The line then went via a nephew to the Lee-Warners of Walsingham in Norfolk.

William Warner was a dyer at Spitalfields in London in the late 17th century.  Following his death in 1712, his sons and grandsons carried on the business which came to be known as Warner & Sons.  In 1870 this company, under family ownership, became the foremost weaver of furnishing silk in England.  Weaving at its Braintree plant in Essex continued until 1971.

Subsequent Warners in London included:

  • the Warner family who was instrumental in the development of the Hornsey suburb in the early 19th century.  Jacob Warner, a London grocer, had acquired the land in 1796 and his family lived in The Priory there until the death of Henry Warner in 1883.
  • another Warner family who was active in the development of Walthamstow in the late 19th century.
  • and then there was the Warner acting family, starting with grandfather James Warner, then father Charles Warner, and son H.B. Warner whose career straddled both silent and talkie movies.

Elsewhere Warners in the Midlands included a Warner family who held Wasperton manor near Warwick in the 1660’s. Another Warner family was engaged in the lace industry in Coleorton, Leicestershire from the early 1700’s. The Warner family history of New Oxley House in Wolverhampton began in 1820.

Ireland and Wales. Warner in Ireland was probably an English implant, although in Cork it could be Irish, an anglicization of the Gaelic name O’Murmain. Warners from Macroon in Cork date from the early 1700’s. One family history recorded a Warner family of farmers in Meath and Cork who moved to Swansea in Wales in 1840.

The Warners in Swansea included James Warner, a bare-knuckle boxer, and Larry Warner, a theater manager.

America. The origin for Warners in America may have been from England, Ireland, Germany, or they may even have been Jewish.

English Warners. From Norfolk in England came Colonel Augustine Warner, who arrived in Virginia in 1628 at the age of seventeen. From his home at Warner Hall, he was the progenitor of a prominent Virginia family.  In his descendant charts can be found George Washington, General Robert E. Lee, and, through the Warner Hall Lewis family, Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Another early Warner line began with John Warner from Essex who arrived in New England in the 1630’s and was an early settler of Farmington, Connecticut. Son Andrew was one of the founders of Hartford, Connecticut (Lucien Warner’s 1919 book The Descendants of Andrew Warner covered this line). Descendants of these Warners included Colonel Seth Warner of the Green Mountain Boys, a Vermont militia group at the time of the Revolutionary War.

Also into New England came William Warner from Essex.  He was one of the founders in 1637 of the town of Ipswich, Massachusetts.  Later Warners were to be found in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Warners settled in Pennsylvania as well. Captain William Warner came in 1675 and started the Blockley plantation (named after his English home in Gloucestershire). Twelve generations of his family have been traced. Hayward Dare Warner’s 1971 book A Warner Family Narrative recorded this history.

Benjamin Warner began a bookselling company in Philadelphia which expanded in the 19th century to a very large book publishing business. He and his brother Joseph owned the Chamonix mansion in Fairmount Park. They are believed to have been descended from the Joseph Warner who arrived in Philadelphia in 1726.

Irish Warners.  From Dublin in Ireland came Wettenhall Warner sometimes in the 1760’s. He married, settled, and raised a family in Orangeburg,  South Carolina. Later Warners moved onto Louisiana and Texas. A descendant J.T. Warner compiled a genealogy of the family in 1894 which was incorporated into Russ Williams’ 1968 book Kinsmen All.

Some other Warners from Ireland were:

  • Henry Warner from Dublin who, it was said, “ran away and enlisted as a common sailor before the mast” and ended up in Pittsburgh
  • Warners who left Macroom in Cork for Boston in the 1830’s
  • and a Warner family who went from Cork to Texas in 1852.

Dutch Warners.  William Warner, born in New York in 1742, was descended from early Dutch settlers in Manhattan, notably Anneke Jans Bogardus.  Peter Roome Warner’s 1883 book covered this descent.

German Warners.  Christian Wanner’s family had come to upstate New York from Germany in the 1700’s. He was a Loyalist during the Revolutionary War.  When the War was over he changed his name to Warner and crossed the border with his family into Niagara, Canada.

Other Warners who came from Germany were:

  • Anthony Warner, a brewer from Baden, who came with his wife Teresa to Nashville, Tennessee in 1835
  • Frank Warner from Baden who immigrated to upstate New York in 1852
  • Nicolis and Wilhelmina Warner from Hanover who went out to California in the 1860’s
  • and George and Mary Ann Warner from Baden who came to New Orleans in the 1860’s and later settled in Canton, Mississippi.

Then there was a Jewish family from Poland who changed their name from Wonsal to Warner on their arrival in America in the 1880’s. With his three brothers, Jack Warner founded the Warner Brothers movie studio in Hollywood after World War One. Warner Brothers were one of the premiere filmmakers in Hollywood during the studio era.

Caribbean. It was a Suffolk man, Thomas Warner, who established the first British settlement in the Caribbean, in St. Kitts in 1624. A later relative, Joseph Warner, rose to be one of the three leading English surgeons of his day and was the first member of the College of Surgeons that was founded in 1750.

Many of Thomas’s descendants stayed in the Caribbean. The Warner family dispersed over the Leeward Islands, some in Antigua, some in Dominica, some in St. Vincent, and some in Trinidad.

By the 19th century the Warners were one of the most powerful families in Trinidad. Perhaps the best-known of this family was Sir Pelham Warner, the cricketing eminence grise. His brother Aucher Warner wrote Sir Thomas Warner, a Chronicle of His Family in 1934. A more recent Warner is Jack Warner, a controversial Trinidadian minister.

Australia.  Lieutenant Jonathan Warner arrived in Australia in 1826 on the Orpheus with the Royal New South Wales Corps. He was posted to Newcastle, NSW and subsequently settled with his family near Lake Macquarie. Warners Bay there was named after him. Suzanne and Waldemar Lotocki’s 2008 book The Story of Lieutenant Jonathan Warner and his Family narrates this family’s story.

Warners from Alfriston in Sussex were early settlers in South Australia, arriving there in 1840.

James Warner of London, who had come to Sydney in 1837, became a surveyor and was the first to survey the northern territories of Australia in 1846. One of his sons, also a surveyor, settled in Auckland, New Zealand.

Warner Surname Miscellany

Edward Warner of Mildenhall.  Edward Warner was a descendant of the famous Sir Edward Warner, Lieutenant of the Tower.  His father Sir Henry held Mildenhall Manor and other estates in Suffolk which Edward was due to inherit.

However, such was Edward’s inveterate love of gambling that his father made the following provision in his will:

“That should he in any one day lose more than one pound by play, he should:

  • for the first offence forfeit his manor of Mildenhall to the then Lord Justice of England,
  • for the second, his manor of Thornhill,
  • and, for the third, the whole remainder of his property to his heirs, as one already dead and ‘played out.'” 

Sir Thomas Warner’s Ring.  The first British settlement in the Caribbean occurred in St. Kitts and was undertaken by a group of Suffolk merchants led by Thomas Warner, a captain in the royal guard.  When the King knighted him in 1629 in recognition of his successful planting of a new colony, Queen Henrietta presented him with the ring that Queen Elizabeth had once given to the Earl of Essex, her favorite courtier.

The ring was handed down in the Warner family until a Trinidadian Attorney General lost it in the 1800’s.  It has never been found or positively identified since.

Warner Silk Making in Essex.  Warner & Sons was founded in 1870 by Benjamin Warner to take advantage of the negative effects of the Franco-Prussian War on the French silk industry.

The Warner family had been involved in the silk industry since the 17th century, manufacturing traditional patterns.  However, Benjamin Warner was very interested in contemporary design and bought designs from the renowned and influential designer Owen Jones.  The firm supplied Liberty & Co, Collinson & Lock, and Debenham & Freebody.

The company moved to Braintree in 1895, having taken over buildings already used in the silk industry, and specialized in high-quality textiles, supplying fabrics for royal ceremonies for King George VI and the Prince of Wales as well as the Queen’s coronation.

The company ceased weaving in Braintree in 1971, but examples of fabrics produced there are held at the Warner Textile Archive.

Shamus Warner the Bare-knuckle Boxer.  James Warner (fight name Shamus Warner) was born in Swansea in 1854.  He was a bare-knuckle boxer and fought in both the UK and the USA, as part of Billy Samuel’s Boxing Troop.  He had been known to fight up to 30 rounds a contest three times a week.  His last fight was at Clyne colliery, on top of the old pit at Blackpill.  After the fight he had to retire with badly damaged knuckles.

In his younger years James used to deliver fruit and vegetables around Swansea.  He appeared in 1867 in a newspaper report as having been apprehended by the police for being drunk while in charge of a donkey and cart.

He and his wife Mary had seven children.  James died in 1912 as a result of an unfortunate accident with the gas supply at the lodging house where he was staying.

Warners in America by Place of Origin

Country Numbers Percent
England   347   46
Ireland    88   12
Germany   319   41

The Warner Hall Graveyard.  The walled family cemetery of the Warner and Lewis families is located on the Warner Hall property, southeast of Warner Hall.  The cemetery, owned and maintained by the Association for Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, is the final resting place for many of the Warner and Lewis family members.

There are thirteen graves in the Warner Hall graveyard, including the following six Warners:

  • Mary Warner (believed to be Mary Towneley Warner), 1614 – 1662
  • Augustine Warner I, 1611 – 1674
  • Augustine Warner II, 1642 – 1681
  • Mildred Reade Warner (wife of Augustine Warner II), died in 1694
  • Augustine Warner III, 1666 – 1686
  • Elizabeth Warner Lewis  (daughter of Augustine Warner II and wife of Col. John Lewis), 1672 – 1719

Colonel Seth Warner.  The following inscription is on the monument that was erected over his grave:

“In memory of Colonel Seth Warner Esq. Who departed this life December 26 1784 at the 42nd year of his age.

  • Triumphant leader at our armies’ head,
  • Whose martial glory struck a panic dread,
  • Thy warlike deeds engraven on this stone
  • Tell future ages what a hero’s done.
  • Full sixteen battles he did fight,
  • For to procure his country’s right.
  • Oh! This brave hero, he did fall
  • By death who ever conquers all.
  • When this you see, remember me.”

Reader Feedback – Captain William Warner.  I share the Warner DNA. I am descended from Captain William Warner who founded the Blockley plantation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Migration was to Wrightstown, Bucks county, Pa and then to Virginia,  Tennessee and Kentucky..

Sincerely, Ray Dixon (dixonraymond0@gmail.com)

Irish Warners Who Came to Texas.  The Warners came out to Dallas county, Texas in 1852 direct from Ireland.  There were eight of them, the old gentleman and his wife and five sons and a daughter.

A contemporary wrote the following about them:

“They were a family of more than ordinary intelligence.  The old gentleman was a remarkable man, over six foot tall, well educated and as polite as a French dancing master.  He could make as graceful a bow as a Chesterfield. He had a rich Irish brogue, was very interesting in conversation and a dignified Christian gentleman, and was held in high esteem by all his neighbors.  He was born in 1795 and departed this life in 1875.

The family came from county Cork in Ireland.  Two of his sons, Robert and Benjamin, departed this life several years ago, also his daughter Susan.  The whole family were Protestant.”

The Brothers Warner.  The Brothers Warner, which aired on American TV in 2008, was an intimate portrait and epic saga of the four film pioneers who founded and ran the Warner Bros. studio for over fifty years.

Narrated by family member Cass Warner Sperling (Harry Warner’s granddaughter), the 60-minute film gave an insider look at these original Hollywood independent filmmakers and their varied personalities and business sense; the little-known major player, Harry Warner; Albert or “Honest Abe;” visionary Sam; and volatile Jack.

Rare archival footage, family photos, and documents traced their scrappy rise from nothing, along with the personal tragedies and professional battles they overcame along the way.

From opening their first storefront theater by hanging a sheet on the wall and borrowing chairs from a funeral parlor to creating one of the top studios in America, these four brothers built an empire on a dream and revolutionized Hollywood; and they were the first to use mass media to “educate, entertain, and enlighten.”

Reader Feedback – Warners in Nova Scotia.  I’m from Canada, more specifically from Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia.  My grandparents were McLachlan and Warner lines on the paternal side and, Goudey and Hardy lines on the maternal. I have on the paternal side Greenshields, Hiddleston, and can be traced back to Prince Phillip Mountbatten of Edinburgh.

Heather Warner (heatherwarner@bellaliant.net).

Warner Names

  • Sir Thomas Warner was a 17th century sea captain and explorer. He settled in St. Kitts, which in 1624 was the first English colony in the Caribbean.
  • Ezra Warner was an American inventor who patented the can opener in 1858.
  • Sir Pelham Warner, generally known as Plum, was a leading English cricketer and administrator in the early 1900’s.
  • Jack Warner was a Hollywood studio mogul, the driving force behind Warner Brothers Studios.  His family was of Polish Jewish roots.

Warner Numbers Today

  • 20,000 in the UK (most numerous in Kent)
  • 30,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 12,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Click here for return to front page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *